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Senate Committee Holds Public Hearing on EPA Carbon Pollution Plan

The State Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee last Friday held the first of two public hearings to discuss the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to cut carbon pollution from nationwide power plants by 30 percent in 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

Earlier this month, the EPA proposed its Clean Energy Policy as part of President Barack Obama’s Action Plan to address climate change.

The hearing featured testimony from the Department of Environmental Protection’s Deputy Secretary for Waste, Air, Radiation and Remediation who oversees the Bureau of Air Quality, as well as representatives of Pennsylvania’s electric, coal and business sectors.

The hearing marked the first time state legislators addressed the proposed federal policy, which has been met with skepticism from Pennsylvania’s coal industry and business community who argue that the proposal would increase electric prices and raise the cost of doing business in the state.

Subsequently, environmentalists, including those supporting the solar and wind sectors, heralded the administration’s recent proposal.

“I think it is imperative for the committee to look at the short and long-term effects of this federal proposal on our environment and overall economy,” said Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Committee.  “There is a real concern that this regulation could be a threat to electric reliability.”

In his opening statement, Sen. Yaw noted that while the United States has already made tremendous strides to reducing its carbon footprint, other countries have taken a different approach with increasing carbon emissions.

During his testimony, Vince Brisini, Deputy Secretary at DEP, discussed a Section 111(d) White Paper DEP submitted to EPA which provides a state framework for cleaner air, a fuel diverse energy profile, lower electric prices and more jobs.

“We (DEP) believe that there is a way to do this in a fashion that allows the markets to make these decisions.  That allows people to improve their competitiveness.  We believe that there is a way to do this that we can be more competitive as a nation, and we can be more competitive and it preserves the fuel diversity and the jobs,” said Brisini.  “Our proposal would actually preserve the jobs in the power plants, preserve jobs in the mines.  It would expand jobs because people will be investing in their assets to achieve efficiency improvements.”

John Pippy, CEO of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance and Eugene M. Trisko, Esq. representing the United Mine Workers of America, reiterated their support for House Bill 2354, which requires DEP to receive approval from the Pennsylvania Legislature for a state plan to regulate CO2 emissions prior to submitting any plan to the EPA for approval.

“Since 2005, CO2 emissions from all fossil-fueled plants in Pennsylvania have decreased by 9 percent,” Trisko added.  “EPA’s proposal gives no credit to states such as Pennsylvania that already have reduced their CO2 emissions due to market-driven forces such as increased natural gas use, or the retirement of existing coal units.”

The Committee also heard from Dan Byers, Senior Director of Policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy who highlighted a comment made by current Secretary of State John Kerry on the EPA proposal:

“[T]he United States cannot solve this problem or foot the bill alone. Even if every single American got on a bicycle tomorrow and carpooled – instead of – or carpooled to school instead of buses or riding in individual cars or driving, or rode their bike to work, or used only solar power – panels in order to power their homes; if we each, every American, planted a dozen trees; if we eliminated all of our domestic greenhouse gas emissions – guess what? That still wouldn’t be enough to counter the carbon pollution coming from the rest of the world. Because today, if even one or two economies neglects to respond to this threat, it can counter, erase all of the good work that the rest of the world has done. When I say we need a global solution, I mean we need a global solution.”

Byers further emphasized that in the absence of similar actions by other major economies, U.S. regulations to address carbon emissions will fail, something the EPA and Obama Administration are keenly aware of.

The Committee has scheduled a second hearing to discuss the federal proposal for August 21.